Friday, 17 January 2014

The Hermitage, Dunkeld

The Hermitage pleasure ground at Dunkeld was created in the mid to late 18th century by John Murray 3rd Duke of Atholl to embellish the policies of Dunkeld House. While the Murray family's main house was, and is at Blair Castle seventeen miles to the north, they also maintained Dunkeld House as a winter retreat. Successive Dukes of Atholl planted trees to enhance the landscape.

The Hermitage was built between 1757-8 as a venue for viewing the spectacular Black Linn Falls on the River Braan. The stone pavillion was built right on the edge of the gorge with a viewing platform to afford the best experience of the turbulent waters. It was once described as , "one of the most elaborate furnished decorative garden buildings in Scotland". The interior contained a hall of mirrors lined with looking glasses, that contrived to bring the crashing waters inside to create what must have been wonderful illusions and effects.

In 1760 the poet James Macphearson claimed to have discovered some "lost" poems, written in Gaelic by Ossian, son of the legendary Fingal. The discovery quickly fired the public imagination to the extent that the Hermitage was soon called Ossian's Hall, a stone seat fashioned from the living rock  became Ossian's Seat, and in 1785 an artificial cave was constructed at the head of the valley to be known as......Ossian's cave. The stone bridge spanning the gorge, the best place to view Black Linn Pool,  somehow avoided the fashion  remaining Hermitage Bridge. There is a Douglas Fir beside the pool that is said to be the 4th tallest tree in Britain.

Such was the fame of the Hermitage or Ossian's Hall that it attracted such illustrious visitors as poet William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy, the  painter J.M.W.Turner, composer Felix Mendlesohn and even Queen Victoria herself. The guide, "hermit" Donald Anderson would greet  visitors dressed  in animal skins, his long beard augmented with lichen and other organic debris.

In 1803 Dorothy Wordsworth described her visit, "Our guide opened a door, and we entered a dungeon like passage, and, after walking some yards in total darkness, found ourselves in a quaint apartment stuck over with moss, hung about with stuffed foxes and other wild animals, and ornamented with wooden books covered with old leather backs, and mock furniture of a hermit's cell. At the end of the room, through a large bow window, we saw the waterfall...a very beautiful prospect."

However in 1869 Ossian's Hall was blown up in protest at the tolls the Duke of Atholl charged to cross Dunkeld Bridge. The designed landscape was left to fall into unmanaged decay. In 1943 the Hermitage and the surrounding area was sold by the widow of the 8th Duke of Atholl to the National Trust for Scotland. The present Hermitage was built in 1951 but it  is a dull echo of the original, the mirrors produce no optical illusions, however the viewing platform retains its spectacular views.